7 Literary One-Hit Wonders
— Emily, Owl Eyes Staff on
Some writers churn out new works like unstoppable machines. Dickens, Shakespeare, Austen—all of these writers died not only with multiple major literary works to their names but also produced many successful texts that remain immensely popular to this day.
On the other side of the coin, some writers are known for producing just one major, successful work. These are the one-hit-wonders of the literary world—writers that only published one work during their lifetime that gained a lot of renown and attention. Let’s take a look at seven of these authors and the impact of their big hits.
1. Black Beauty
Author: Anna Sewell
Read time: 2 hours 43 minutes
Genre: Adventure novel, animal drama
Similar to: The Call of the Wild by Jack London
“It is good people who make good places.”
Sewell’s classic Black Beauty. Sewell composed the novel while severely ill, and lived only five months after its publication. Sewell’s only novel went on to sell over fifty million copies, making it one of the best-selling books worldwide. With important messages about kindness, respect, and empathy, Black Beauty not only teaches us to how to love animals, but also how to love each other.
Author: Bram Stoker
Read time: 4 hours 45 minutes
Genre: Gothic novel
Similar to: The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
“No man knows till he has suffered from the night how sweet and dear to his heart and eye the morning can be.”
There are few books as influential on modern pop culture as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. While the concept of a vampiric, undead monster had been around for centuries, we owe our modern conception of the vampire fantasy to Stoker’s rendition. Written in 1897, Dracula has gone on to inspire countless other works, including feature films, plays, television adaptations, video games, and, of course, a certain young-adult teenage love story series (although Stoker’s version has significantly less sparkle).
Author: Mary Shelley
Read time: 2 hours 21 minutes
Genre: Gothic novel
Similar to: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”
Despite credentials as a novelist, short story writer, and dramatist, when one mentions Mary Shelley, there is only one book that springs to mind. Frankenstein, often hailed as the beginning of the science-fiction and horror genre, was published in 1818, when Shelley was just 20 years old. The Gothic novel also directly alludes to Milton’s Paradise Lost (see below), in comparing Frankenstein’s monster to a “fallen angel.”
4. The Jungle
“So he went on, tearing up all the flowers from the garden of his soul, and setting his heel upon them.”
Five publishers initially rejected the work as too shocking, before Doubleday Publishing eventually came to the rescue. The Jungle was published in 1906 to massive controversy. While the book was intended as a critique of capitalism and a tacit endorsement of socialism, many readers were primarily horrified by its exposure of the health and safety violations of the meat industry. While Sinclair did write a number of other works, he is predominantly known today for The Jungle’s unique brand of political critique.
Author: John Milton
Read time: 7 hours 15 minutes
Genre: Epic poem
Similar to: Dante’s Inferno by Dante Alighieri
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
John Milton’s Paradise Lost was actually followed by a sequel, Paradise Regained. But nowadays, Milton is pretty much only known for his magnum opus Paradise Lost, a blank-verse epic poem that comprises ten books with over ten thousand lines. The poem is concerned with the biblical fall of Adam and Eve, and of the fallen angel of Satan. Paradise Lost has had a profound effect on the literary canon, and is still widely referenced in pop culture today.
Author: Harriet Beecher Stowe
Read time: 5 hours 26 minutes
Genre: Anti-Slavery novel
Similar to: The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass
“Of course, in a novel, people's hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it; and in a story this is very convenient. But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a number of other stories during her lifetime, but none ever reached the acclaim and notoriety of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In fact, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th-century. Its strongly abolitionist message is credited as laying the foundation for the United States’ Civil War. In recent years, however, the novel has been criticized for the proliferation of a number of reductive African-American stereotypes.
“He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
The final addition on this list is Emily Bronte’s only novel, Wuthering Heights, was published a year before her death, under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. Charlotte Bronte, her sister and the author of Jane Eyre, edited a version of Wuthering Heights which was eventually released in a posthumous edition in 1850. The unabashedly Gothic narrative follows the doomed romance of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, and has become one of the most well-known love stories in English literature to date.